From the Chicago Reader (June 1, 2002). — J.R.
Alexander Dovzhenko’s first sound film, revolving around the construction of a giant dam on the Dnieper River, is one of his greatest, though it was poorly received in the Soviet Union when it came out in 1932. It’s only one of the eccentricities of this lyrical and monumental feature that the title refers to three different characters, and it’s telling that the father of one of them, an illiterate peasant who proudly spends his time fishing and loafing while everyone else works, is treated with considerable warmth. (A sequence in which he’s frightened when addressed by an outdoor loudspeaker evokes Chaplin as well as Tati.) As in all of Dovzhenko’s best work, the style veers closer to lyrical poetry (its opening sequence about the river) and portraiture (a later segment introducing us to various workers) than to narrative, though it’s innovative in other respects as well: the final sequence includes some striking jump cuts almost 30 years before Jean-Luc Godard purportedly invented them in Breathless. In Russian with subtitles. 90 min. (JR)
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From the Chicago Reader (April 30, 2004). It’s great to catch up with Andrey Zvyagintsev again a decade later, thanks to his wrenching and politically caustic Leviathan. — J.R.
Beautifully structured and emotionally wrenching, this 2003 debut feature immediately establishes Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev as a master. It charts a father’s uneasy return to his wife and two adolescent sons after a long and unexplained absence, a reunion capped by his ill-fated fishing trip with the two boys. A former actor, Zvyagintsev elicits first-rate performances from his male leads, but what registers most is the sharpness and intensity of his vision of nature and childhood experience. Nominated for an Oscar and winner of the Golden Lion at the Venice film festival, this has been described by the director as “a mythological look [at] human life,” as accurate a description as any I’ve encountered. In Russian with subtitles. 106 min. Music Box.
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From the Chicago Reader (October 1, 2004). — J.R.
Los Angeles Plays Itself **** (Masterpiece)
Directed and Written by Thom Andersen
Narrated by Encke King
I think there’s this weird thing at work now with the way people relate to, specifically, mainstream cinema. When they watch those movies they like to be on the receiving end. . . . The sound is so loud, and the images are so powerful, they want to be totally passive. But then, a few months later, the same film is on DVD, and they can watch it and they own it. And the relationship is inverted. They own that moment, that scene. They also control that diverse, complex relationship they have with film actors. They can watch this or that in slow motion or image by image. — Olivier Assayas in a 2003 interview
The paradigmatic shift in moviegoing described above is fundamental, profoundly altering what we mean by film history as well as film criticism. But if you keep your focus trained on theatrical releases, and regard the subsequent surfacing of the same items on video and DVD only as faint echoes, you’re less likely to be aware of what’s been happening lately, which is in fact affecting the entire corpus of cinema and our access to it.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (November 19, 2004). — J.R.
The Big Red One: The Reconstruction
Directed and Written by Samuel Fuller
With Lee Marvin, Mark Hamill, Robert Carradine, Bobby Di Cicco, Stephane Audran, Christa Lang, Kelly Ward, Siegfried Rauch, and Fuller
“When I enter his suite at the Plaza, he’s finishing lunch, expressing his regret about missing Godard in Cannes, remarking on the absurdity of prizes at film festivals, asking me what Soho News and Soho are. (The one he knows about is in London — he fondly recalls a cigar store on Frith Street.)
“It isn’t hard to figure out why Mark Hamill affectionately calls him Yosemite Sam, or why Lee Marvin simply says he’s D.W. Griffith. Bursting with the same charismatic, comic book energy that skyrockets through most of his movies, old crime reporter, novelist, war hero, writer-director and sometime producer Samuel Fuller, almost 69, still moves and talks like his daffy action flicks — like the wild man from Borneo — in quick, short, blocky punches, like two-fisted slabs of socko headline type.”
The purple prose was mine, the year was 1980. Fuller was promoting his semiautobiographical war picture The Big Red One, even though the studio had just cut half of it — something he wasn’t making any effort to hide.… Read more »